The Strong Delusion
May 11th, 1958 @ 7:30 PM
Dr. W. A. Criswell
2 Thessalonians 2:8-11
5-11-58 7:30 p. m.
This sermon tonight is the most terrible that I have ever prepared in my life. In the second chapter of the second Thessalonian letter – Second Thessalonians, the second chapter – if you would like to read with me the passage, we shall begin at the eighth verse: Second Thessalonians, the second chapter, beginning at the eighth verse.
The title of the sermon tonight is The Strong Delusion. The text is the eleventh verse: "For this cause God shall send them strong delusion, that they should believe a lie, that they all might be damned who believed not the truth" [2 Thessalonians 2:11-12].
Now let’s read the context if you would like. Second Thessalonians 2, beginning at the eighth verse, and we’ll read the chapter.
And then shall that wicked be revealed, whom the Lord shall consume with the Spirit of His mouth and shall destroy with the brightness of His coming,
Even him whose coming is after the working of Satan, with all power, and signs, and lying wonders,
And with all deceivableness of unrighteousness in them that perish, because they received not the love of the truth, that they might be saved.
For this cause God shall send them strong delusion, that they should believe a lie,
That they all might be damned who believed not the truth but had pleasure in unrighteousness.
But we are bound to give thanks alway to God for you, brethren beloved of the Lord, because God hath from the beginning chosen you to salvation through sanctification of the Spirit and belief of the truth,
Whereunto He called you by our gospel, to the obtaining of the glory of our Lord Jesus Christ.
Therefore, brethren, stand fast, and hold the traditions which ye have been taught, whether by word or our epistle.
Now our Lord Jesus Christ Himself, and God, even our Father, which hath loved us, and hath given us everlasting consolation and good hope through grace,
Comfort your hearts and stablish you in every good word and work.
[2 Thessalonians 2:8-17]
Nor would I preach on a thing like this were it not so evidently before me as we go through the Bible and were it not also so much a fabric of the texture of the gospel.
A great part of this sermon tonight, I do not understand. I do not know. I – it is beyond me. But it’s in the Bible, and I see it not only in the Book God has written with His hand, but I see it in the book all around me of human life and human story.
The text is that these who oppose God in Christ "with all deceivableness of unrighteousness in them that perish, because they received not the love of the truth, that they might be saved" [2 Thessalonians 2:10] – "no" to God, and "no" to Christ, and "no" to Jesus – "for this cause," turning down the appeal, "for this cause" – saying "no" to Christ – "for this cause God shall send them strong delusion, that they should believe a lie, that they all might be damned, that they all might be judged, who believe not the truth" [2 Thessalonians 2:11-12]. And the text: "For this cause God shall send them strong delusion" [2 Thessalonians 2:11].
Now it is a different translation. I mean, the actual words are not "strong delusion." Means the same thing: "For this cause God shall send them energeia." And you’ve got an English word like that Greek word energeia. Best way to translate it would be "working" – "God shall send them a working," an energeia planēs.
Ninety-one times in this New Testament do you find that word and cognate words and words that mean the same thing. Ninety-one times will you find that – translated in many places "deception, deceiving, a working of deception." Planaō means "to wander," or "to cause to wander," and finally "to lead astray," and then "to deceive."
That’s interesting thing – words. "Planet" comes from that. It’s from the Greek word planaō, "wandering, to make to wander, to deceive, to lead astray." Planētēs – one of the forms of the verbs – a planētēs, and your word "planet" comes from it. And that came because in the ancient world, the so-called astronomers – they weren’t astronomers, they just did the best they could looking up there in the sky. Some stars seemed to wander, to move around, so they called them planētēs: "planets." They moved around, and some stars seemed to be fixed. That’s what the ancient looked at up there in the sky.
Well, that’s this word here: "a wandering, a causing to wander, a leading astray," and then finally the meaning "a deception, an illusion, a deceiving." And it is so much in the Word of the Lord. As I turn the page here, Paul traces the fall of humanity, all of it, to a deception, to a deceiving. "Adam was not deceived" – he knew what he was doing – "but the woman being deceived, was in the transgression" [1 Timothy 2:14].
You know, another interesting thing about words: most of the times, a word that is used first back here in the beginning will have the same use and the same significance all the way through the Holy Scriptures. And back there in the third chapter of Genesis and in the thirteenth verse, Eve says to God: "The serpent beguiled me" – there’s that word again, "deceived me" – "and I did eat" [Genesis 3:13].
"Adam was not deceived, but the woman, being deceived" [1 Timothy 2:14] beguiled – same word. "Satan beguiled me" – deceived me, led me astray – "and I did eat" [Genesis 3:13].
I one time heard of a boy in England on the countryside walking down a lane followed by a pig. Had he been followed by a dog, no one would have thought of it, but it was unusual to see a boy walking down the lane followed by a pig. And a man passing by, noticing it, said to the lad, "How do you get that pig to follow you?"
And he said, "I do it with a bag of beans. I drop a bean here and a bean there and a bean there, and the pig comes along and he follows me eating the beans."
And the man said, "Where are you taking the pig?"
And the boy said, "To the slaughterhouse."
"For this cause God shall send them strong delusion," an energy, a working of deception, led astray, "that they might be damned who believed not the truth" [from 2 Thessalonians 2:11-12].
Now, I said there is a tremendous revelation of this thing in the Word of God. "The Spirit speaketh expressly that in these latter times" [1 Timothy 4:1] – and all times are latter times for us. Brother, fifty years from now, you won’t be here. Twenty-five years from now, most of us will not be here. Outside of these young people, a score, a decade – these are latter times for us. "The Spirit speaketh expressly . . . they shall depart from the faith, giving heed to seducing" – there’s that word again – "deceiving spirits, doctrines of demons, speaking lies in hypocrisy" [1 Timothy 4:1-2].
That’s the strangest: "in hypocrisy," a pseudologōn, pseudologōn. Pseudo is "false." Logos is "word." "In hypocrisy": people who speak false words. The true logos – and it’s translated "Word" – the true Word is Christ, and here he speaks of pseudologos. Here is the true Christ and the true gospel and the true message, and here is a false word and a false hope and a false appeal and a false invitation and a false gospel, called here – this is only place you’ll find that word – a pseudologos: a "false word."
Turn the page, and here in Second Peter, there are coming and have been – 2 Peter 2:1 – "false prophets," pseudo prophētai. "Even as there shall be false teachers," pseudo didaskoloi, "who privily shall bring in damnable heresies, [denying] the Lord that bought them, and bring upon themselves swift [destruction]"; pseudo didaskoloi, pseudo didaskolos, "a false teacher" – didaskolos, "didactic, teacher," didaskolos; pseudo, "a false one."
This is a speaking of the day when we come to our highest intellectual capacities, our greatest achievements in science and research, when psychology has plumbed the depths of the human soul, when culture and knowledge and training and education are on every hand. This – instead of the teacher and his science and his knowledge leading and bringing to God, it brings to grosser materialism and atheism, and a spurning of the great spiritual values of life, and a doing away with the necessity of a personal commitment to Jesus Christ – a pseudodidaskolos.
And they are everywhere and in every institution, and our institutions become a little more grossly material, grossly infidel – not just our state institutions. More and more and more people, they say, who are religious, who are converted, who are saved, are that way because of intellectual aberration. They are ecclesiastical nuts. If they knew better, they wouldn’t be that way – didaskolos, "teachers," pseudo, "false."
Then it says "false prophets." You know, when you read and you’re thinking of a thing, everything you read seems to point in that direction. Times are coming, says the Bible, when there shall fall upon this world fire and blood and furor and smoke, war [Revelation 8:5-13]. And it’s in those days that people turn to any kind of a savior, anybody that could lead them out.
Now this is from Josephus [Titus Flavius Josephus, 37-100 CE] in that famous, famous account of the fall of Jerusalem in 70 A. D. as he writes of it in the sixth book of The Wars of the Jews [75 CE]. Josephus was the general of the Hebrew army, and he was captured in Galilee. He headed the army in Galilee, and he sat there in the tents of the commanders of the Roman legions, and he saw the destruction of Jerusalem. You’ll not find in literature anything more vivid than as he describes the blood that flowed in the streets of the city of God. And this is the paragraph of its final destruction:
A false prophet was the occasion of these people’s destruction. He had made a public proclamation in the city to that very day: God commanded him to get up on the temple, and that there they should receive miraculous signs of deliverance. Now there was then a great number of false prophets suborned by the tyrants to impose upon the people . . . that they might be buoyed up above fear and care by such hopes.
[Book VI, Chapter 5, The Wars of the Jews, by Josephus, 75 CE]
False hopes: "You don’t need to worry; we not going to have another war. You don’t need to worry; things are getting better and better and better. You don’t need to be concerned; we all going to be saved. God’s good. God’s full of love. He’s not going to damn anybody to hell. Don’t you be concerned or troubled or agitated." False prophets!
Then he spiritualizes. Josephus always doing that. "Now a man" – he’s telling why they were such dupes and why they followed these false teachers and prophets:
Now a man that is in adversity does easily comply with such promises; for when such a seducer makes him believe that he shall be delivered from those miseries which oppress him, then it is that he’s full of hope for such deliverance.
These were the miserable people persuaded by these deceivers . . .
– he uses the same Greek word there –
while they did not attend nor give credit to the signs that were so evident, and did so plainly foretell their future desolation . . . but like men infatuated, without eyes to see or minds to consider, did not regard the denunciations that God had made to them.
[Book VI, Chapter 5, The Wars of the Jews, by Josephus, 75 CE]
Josephus believed that Jerusalem was committed by God to destruction, and he’s speaking of the false prophets who say: "There’s a deliverance. God’s not going to damn you. He’s not going to destroy you." And they were buoyed up in false hopes by false doctrines by false prophets. I had a great deal prepared that I’m going to leave out.
False Christs. You had one in recent days. Have you ever gone to Chicago and seen that Baha’i, big temple of Baha’ism? They got one in Haifa [Haifa, Israel], all over this world. And in our day, Abdu’l-Baha [1844-1921], the original of Baha’ism, said, "I am all these early messiahs together. I supersede all previous teachers. Christ was the highest until I came; and now it is the duty of men to listen to me."
And this Book says, in this text that I am preaching from [2 Thessalonians 2:8-11], that that kind of a thing shall find its ultimate in this final Antichrist, this final wicked one, this final man of sin, the son of perdition. Our world shall be in such stress, such, such heaviness and misery, such war and blood, that they will look to anybody who will say, "I can lead the way out. I am your savior."
And turning aside from God and the true Christ and repentance and faith in Him, the multitudes flock to this false Christ and are led to ultimate damnation and destruction which brings me to the heart of this message and this text. Turning aside from the truth and turning aside from the saving gospel of the Son of God – the true, the alēthea logos, the true logos, the true Word – therefore, God shall send them this energizing of delusion that they might be damned who believed not the truth [2 Thessalonians 2:10-12].
A thing like that strikes you dead. How is it that God, God do a thing like that? "For this cause God shall send them strong delusion, that they should believe a lie, that they might be damned who turn aside from the truth" [2 Thessalonians 2:11-12] of Jesus Christ. I don’t know. I don’t understand. I just see it everywhere.
There is a principle – like God runs His universe by gravity, by the laws of light – there is a spiritual law/principle that when a man says "no" to God and "no" to Christ and "no" to the appeal that finally he becomes a negation himself. God confirms him in that rejection. I can illustrate it endlessly in the Bible.
In the days of Noah, He said, "My Spirit shall not always strive with man" [Genesis 6:3], and at the end of the 120 years of the preaching of righteous Noah, God shut him in the ark [Genesis 7:13-16].
And that young evangelist, Buckner Fanning [1922- ], preaching one night on that described a thing that I have heard several times, and always it’s the truth of God. He described the rain as it began to fall and the waters as they began to rise, and then the people went to the door of the ark and pounded on the door: "Noah! Noah! Noah! Open to us!" Why didn’t Noah open the door? Because the Bible says God shut that door [Genesis 7:16]. God shut the door.
You find the same thing in the parable of the five foolish virgins [Matthew 25:1-13]. While the five who were wise entered in, the five who were foolish went to buy oil for their lamps [Matthew 25:10]; and when they came back, the door was shut. And they said, "Lord, Lord, open to us" [Matthew 25:11]. And God shut that door and said, "Depart, I never knew you" [Matthew 25:12]. God did it.
You have the same confirmation in the life of Esau. Though he sought it carefully with tears, he couldn’t undo those decisions that he made [Genesis 25:29-34, 27:38-41; Hebrews 12:16-17].
You have the same thing in the story of Pharaoh. Pharaoh hardened his heart [Exodus 8:15], and Pharaoh hardened his heart [Exodus 8:32], and Pharaoh hardened his heart [Exodus 9:34]. Then the Bible says, "And then God hardened his heart" – confirmed him in the decision that he’d made [Exodus 9:12, 10:1]. "God shall send them strong delusion, that they should believe a lie, that they might be damned" [from 2 Thessalonians 2:11-12]. Hardened his heart, hardened his heart, hardened his heart, then God hardened his heart.
Same Scriptures describe Saul, who, turning aside from the appeal of Samuel, the prophet of God, and turning aside from the expressed and manifest will of God [1 Samuel 15:1-15] – finally it says: "The Spirit of the Lord departed from Saul, and an evil spirit from the Lord troubled him" [1 Samuel 16:14].
You have the same thing graphically described here in the first chapter of the Book of Romans three times. Did you ever hear of that symphony of Beethoven? [Ludwig van Beethoven, 1712-1773] Is it the ninth one? "Ta, ta, ta, da" – that theme all through that. Sound like a death knell. "Wherefore God gave them up," Romans 1:24. Romans 1:26: "For this cause God gave them up." Romans 1:28: "God gave them up."
You say "no" and "no" and "no" and "no," and some day it is a confirmed negation in your life. You will die in that negative: "No, no."
I cannot enter into it. "If any man see his brother sin a sin which is not unto death, he shall ask, and He shall give him life for them that sin not unto death. There is a sin unto death. I do not say that he shall pray for it" [1 John 5:16]. There is a sin unto death: "No; no; no," and God says, "No."
"Preacher, why, I can repent any time. I can give my life to the devil, and then at the end of it, I can come and be saved. Don’t try to scare me. I’ve heard the preacher say, ‘And He’s a God of mercy’ [Deuteronomy 4:31]. I’ve heard him say, ‘He delights not in the death of anyone’ [Ezekiel 18:23]. I’ve heard him say, ‘And whosoever will may come’ [Revelation 22:17]. I have said ‘no’ to Him forty years. I’m going to say ‘no’ to Him thirty more years, and at the end of seventy years, after I’ve given my life to the world, I am coming down that aisle and be saved. "
Are you? Can you? Will you? "For this cause God shall send them a strong delusion . . . that they might be damned who reject the truth" [2 Thessalonians 2:11-12].
I just don’t know whether you can do it any time or not – death bed repentance the old-timers used to preach about. And the thief on the cross nailed there, just before he died, turned in faith to Jesus, and Jesus saved Him [Luke 23:39-43]. So far as we know, being a malefactor, he wasn’t a cheap robber or thief. He was an insurrectionist; he was a patriot; he was leading armies against Rome. So far as we know, that political leader, that’s the first time he ever saw Jesus. And the first time he ever had an opportunity to accept the Lord, he did it. And so far as I know, there is no instance in the Bible where a man has rejected God and then, on his deathbed, turned and has been saved. So far as I know, I do not know of any.
There’s something about when you say "no." There’s something about it, that your heart becomes that negation. "I don’t care what the preacher says, I am not going down that aisle. I don’t care how many people pray, I’m not going to respond. I don’t care how earnestly they plead or how many times they visit in my home, I am not going to respond."
"And God sends a strong delusion . . . that they might be damned who receive not the truth" [2 Thessalonians 2:11-12]. You become that. You are that, and you die that way. As the eleventh chapter of Ecclesiastes says, "As the tree falls, so shall it lie" [Ecclesiastes 11:3].
Oh these things, they are awful. The damnation and the judgment and the condemnation of God upon men who refuse Christ, it’s awful to contemplate: forever and ever, and always and forever, and in unending eons of eternity, always and forever in torment, in darkness, in loneliness [Matthew 25:30; Luke 16:19-26].
Isn’t that funny? "Don’t you be disturbed, preacher. If I go down to perdition and damnation, most of the world will be there with me." Isn’t that a strange thing? The Bible picture of perdition is not that you’re in the crowd. You’re by yourself. You’re alone. You’re in darkness. You’re not going to have a frivolous, tripping, likesome good time. Brother, you’re in hell. You’re in torment. You’re damned! You’re shut out from God. You’re by yourself. There’s no light there; there’s no glory there; there’s no fellowship there; there’s no communion there. You are by yourself, shut out in utter darkness, forever and forever and forever and forever.
These things bow you to your knees. O, God!
You know, reading the lives of some of these Scots preachers, I came across one not long ago. He said – he died when he was in his twenties. They were trying to get him to spare himself, and his answer was very humble and very simple. He said, "How can I sleep at night when there are three thousand souls in this village, and I know not how it is with them and God?" No wonder he spent his life.
A fellow went to the church to find out the secret of the young pastor’s tremendous, tremendous effect in preaching. Wasn’t anybody there but the janitor, and so he asked the janitor, "How is it that this young man was so effective in his preaching?"
And the janitor said, "Why, I can show you easily." He said, "You come with me."
And he followed the janitor to the pastor’s little cubbyhole of a study. He said, "That’s his chair. Sit down in it." And the visitor sat down in the preacher’s chair. He said, "Now that’s his desk." He said, "Put your hands on it," and he put his hands on it. He said, "Put your face in your hands," and the visitor put his face in his hands. He said, "Now weep."
He took him to the auditorium. He said, "Mount up into the pulpit," and he mount in the pulpit. He said, "Now stand there behind the sacred desk," and he stood there behind the sacred desk. And he said, "Now cover your face with your hands and weep!"
That’s the fellow who said, "How can I sleep when there are three thousand souls in this village, and I know not how it is between them and God?"
I say of me – not speaking of you, of me – that I act as though this message were a travesty. Where is the blood-red earnestness in it?
Man, if you reject this appeal, you are lost; and if you continue to reject this appeal, God will confirm you in that rejection! Your heart becomes insensible. Your soul is calloused. Your life is dragged down. You are lost and you will die that way barring the miraculous intervention of God. Oh, oh, oh, let us pray.
Our saving Lord, the same blessed Jesus who took up into His arms the little children as lambs and blessed them [Matthew 19:13-15], that same loving Lord is the One who taught us almost all that we know of the fires of damnation, of the awful day of judgment [Matthew 13:40-42]. He was the One who wept looking over a lost city: "Oh, how oft would I have gathered thy children together, as a hen gathereth her brood under her wing, and you would not! Behold, your house is left unto you desolate" [Matthew 23:37-38]. No other way, no other hope, no other truth [John 14:6]. Our salvation lies in Thee, O Jesus.
Then, Lord, why can’t I preach like it? Why can’t I persuade like it? Why could people come to these services and go out these doors lost: "No, I will not"? O merciful and compassionate God, our Father, intervene tonight. Stand in the way of a man’s headlong plunge into that final death and judgment, and turn him around. May he come in faith to Thee. We pray in Jesus’ name. Amen.
While we sing this song of appeal, would you turn tonight, and in simple and humble faith and trust, come to Jesus? Would you? Would you? You may not understand it all. I surely don’t. But no small part of the glory of being a Christian is its continual unfolding and revelation. Even the angels look into it [1 Peter 1:12] desiring to understand it, and they cannot. How much less could a man?
But I know enough to know that Jesus died for me. I know enough to know that He has saved other people. Did you have a Christian mother? Did you know a Christian father? Have you seen a Christian mother or father? Have you seen godly people? Let them be a testimony what God can do for you. What He’s done for somebody else, He can do for you and will.
In simple faith: "Not that I know it all or understand it all or can explain it all, but I know enough to know that Jesus died for me [Romans 5:8]. And I can be saved by a look at the Crucified One." There is life for a look for thee [Numbers 21:6-9; John 3:14-15]. Would you look tonight and be saved? Would you?
In this balcony around, in this lower floor, into this aisle and down here to the front: "Here I am, and here I come. By the help of God, tonight, I look to Jesus in faith. May He save my soul from hell. May He forgive my sins. May He take me to Himself now and forever." Would you come? Would you make it now while we stand and while we sing?